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Like Saban, do the right thing boldly

By Thurman Hayes

Millions of Americans turned on their television sets at 8 p.m. Monday to watch the college football National Championship game. You could definitely count me in that number. As readers of this column know, I am a passionate baseball fan. But I enjoy watching football, too. In recent years, my football interest has shifted from the NFL to the college game. There is something about the sheer passion of college football that attracts me.

My son was home from college, and he is a huge fan as well. He and I ordered a bunch of wings and settled in for an evening of football. What we got was a classic.

In case you missed it, Georgia went into halftime with a 13-0 lead. Alabama’s prospects looked grim. They couldn’t move the ball at all. Their offense was anemic. Their quarterback was struggling. The first half was rather boring, and I’m sure lots of people went to bed. I felt like it, but I managed to take a nap at halftime and stay up. I am so glad I did, for what unfolded was truly remarkable.

As the Alabama Crimson Tide took the field for the second half, the announcers were stunned. Nick Saban, Alabama’s legendary coach, had replaced his starting quarterback with a young freshman, Tua Tagovailoa. Tua had sat on the bench all year, and now he was being placed in the pressure cooker of the National Championship game. A year ago, he was a high school senior in Hawaii, watching the game on TV like everybody else.

Nick Saban is quite possibly the greatest college football coach in history, but I have to admit, I second-guessed him on this one. It seemed like a “panic move.”

As it turned out, Coach Saban knew exactly what he was doing. At 8 p.m., America didn’t know who Tua Tagovailoa was. By 12:30 a.m., he was a legend. This teenager came into the game and “lit it up,” finishing with a spectacular game-winning touchdown pass for the ages.

What life lesson can be learned from this?

Be bold enough to do what you think is right. Few coaches would have been bold enough to make the radical move that Nick Saban made. Even if they felt it was the right thing, they would have talked themselves out of it, or not even seriously considered it. Why? Because of the harsh criticism they would have received had such a risky move failed. To start a true freshman quarterback who had not played a meaningful down all year in the second half of the National Championship game? Most coaches would fear the wrath of their fan base if things went wrong. In Nick Saban’s case, he didn’t care. Instead of listening to his fears, he focused on one question: “Who can give us the best chance of winning?”

Far too often in life, we make matters more complicated than they need to be. Instead of just asking, “What is the right thing?” we ask “What is the expedient thing?” or “What is the safe thing?” or “What thing is going to make me look best if something goes wrong?”

We fear failure. We fear criticism. Here’s a better solution: Act on the conviction of simply doing the right thing.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr. is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.